High school athletic directors know that off track academics can derail a student-athlete’s dreams of playing in college. Before Honest Game, AD Chris Livatino did all he could to educate student-athletes, parents and coaches about the college recruiting and academic eligibility process. But sometimes errors just stayed hidden until it was too late.
READ MORE ABOUT CHRIS’ STORY
There are teachers and administrators that go above and beyond for their students, and then there is Chris Livatino. Chris, the athletic director at Evanston Township High School (ETHS), is in a class of his own when it comes to the lengths he is willing to go for individual student success.
When it comes to his students, Chris’ philosophy is simple: “We want to focus on the core values and not get caught up in the outcomes (on the scoreboard). We celebrate the outcomes, but we want to continue to work harder than anybody else and develop selfless players, filling them with grit and passion and strengthening their character.”
With this philosophy, Chris aims to develop the whole student-athlete, including making sure athletes at ETHS are making the most of academics. As any AD knows, nothing derails college sports opportunities like academic ineligibility.
Whether it is taking a class at ETHS that didn’t count as a NCAA-approved core class, or issues with GPAs needed for specific scholarships, without a system in place, student-athletes at ETHS were at risk.
“It was a really uneasy feeling for me, as the leader of our department, knowing that some coaches were a lot more savvy than others about the college recruiting process. We tried to put together what I’d call band-aid approaches to fix the issue by bringing in a speaker or doing a seminar,” said Chris. “You’d do that once every couple years and you felt like maybe you were helping, but you didn’t really know until bad things occurred and by then it was too late to help those kids.”
According to Joyce, after advising student-athletes at ETHS for years, it became evident that even with dedicated and educated staff, there were still holes in the process. “We had a student with a 3.8 who went to play at an NAIA school, and we didn’t catch that her test score was lower than the requirement. She ended up re-taking the SAT in the fall of her college freshman year,” she explains. “We had another student at an NCAA DII college who had a 3.6, but was missing a math unit because he had taken a summer school math that didn’t count for NCAA credit. Students like these were a red flag to us that much more needed to be done to support school staff and families.”
Over in the athletics department, Chris was experiencing much of the same.
“In one case, we had a student who was a clear Division 1 football player. By our standards, he was doing okay in school, and was eligible by our requirements, which were tougher than the state requirements at that time,” said Chris. “We thought for sure he must be on track, but when Joyce dug a little deeper, she realized that was far from true. In fact, he had to end up taking at least seven courses his second semester of senior year, and then two or three summer school courses on top of that just to get enough credits and bring his GPA up to the point where he could grayshirt, allowing him to practice with the team as a freshman.”
Academic eligibility issues aren’t just an ETHS-issue. Nearly one million student-athletes are off track for academic eligibility each year as a result of avoidable or recoverable errors, such as enrolling in classes that do not meet NCAA requirements. This statistic increases to one in two student-athletes from underserved communities.
Joyce teamed up with Kim Michelson, who had been helping student athletes in her own right as the executive director of Beyond Sports Foundation, and ultimately created what we know today as Honest Game.
“Before we started formally educating ETHS families and counselors, ETHS had about 35-45 college bound student-athletes each year,” said Joyce. “That number has gone up to as high as 65 a year – due to eligibility improvements and students having a more broadened view of best fit divisions, including NAIA, DII, DIII and junior college.”
Honest Game exists to support busy school counselors and athletic directors just like Chris and his staff to ensure schools have the ability to mitigate the risk of their students falling subject to academic ineligibility while leveling the playing field to ensure all student-athletes have a clear path to post-secondary education opportunities. Honest Game partners with high schools like ETHS across the country to leverage students’ passion for sports to fuel their motivation for learning using short-term goals and clear visual guidance.
“In the past, our counselors knew how to help kids apply for colleges, and our coaches knew how to help kids go after scholarships or fit the right fit, but those two never really talked to each other,” said Chris. “Now, Honest Game helps them both at the same time while integrating their communication, which creates a lot less issues.”
Chris explained that ETHS still has kids veering off their path toward eligibility, but now they receive an email outlining the exact class that must be taken or grade that must be achieved to stay on track. He compares ETHS with Honest Game to “a ship with a rudder, whereas before we were just kind of floating at sea and hoping we didn’t hit any icebergs.”
“If we would have had some way of discovering that after their freshman year that these students were just a little bit off course, just think of how much easier it would have been to help them get back on that path toward academic success and achievement, not just to be eligible but to fulfill their potential. Now, thanks to Honest Game, we have that ability,” said Chris.
Honest Game’s reports have had a big impact on ETHS students, from motivating a freshman with an NCAA GPA of a 2.0 to raise his GPA to a 2.7 by his sophomore year, to helping students understand whether or not they should graduate early. In one instance, there were three student-athletes requesting to graduate early. Two were on track with eligibility according to their Honest Game reports, and the third was a student’s Honest Game report indicated that graduating early would mean he was short required credits for NCAA eligibility. With his Honest Game report, this student-athlete made the decision to graduate with his class at ETHS and signed his NLI with a DI football program.
Prior to implementing Honest Game, the average GPA for student-athletes was around 3.57. In the last 4 years since, the ETHS student athletes have held steady at a 3.7 average, semester in and semester out.
So how did Chris feel when his all-star advisor and one of his most reliable head coaches told him she was heading off to start Honest Game?
“In addition to helping our students at ETHS one-on-one, Joyce now has the opportunity to help hundreds of thousands of student-athletes across the country! We could not be more proud of her – and more thankful to Honest Game!”
Joyce, Kim and the Honest Game team were able to help Chris and the staff at ETHS – how can they help your student-athletes? Click here for more information.